This film is part of Free

Sambo and Two Girls

Curious film in which several white people and a black man pull faces and examine each other's teeth.

Instructional film/TV programme 1911 2 mins Silent


Often mistaken for a dental instruction film, this bizarre short is an example of a 'facial' film, featuring people displaying a range of facial expressions for the camera. All are dressed conventionally except for a black man wears a clown suit. He appears between two white women who stroke and pet him while encouraging him to gurn and show his teeth.

The part played by the 'black clown' in this film makes for uncomfortable viewing. Britain and the United States both governed large formerly enslaved black populations, most of whom were still denied civil rights by law and custom. Roles for black men as buffoons rather than realistic threats were familiar and comforting to audiences in both countries. This convention served to reinforce the second class position of black people in society and was present in all forms of entertainment, particularly the minstrel practice of 'negro delineation'. This film is in the tradition and style of the 1901 short Laughing Ben, which shows an elderly 'plantation negro' laughing hysterically while displaying a near-toothless grin.